Sunday, 4 March 2012

Greenland Rolling Day

 When I first started exploring Greenland rolling and paddling skills it was purely for my own enjoyment. Initially, my goal was simply to get a more reliable roll, then I discovered just how much fun it was and I began pushing myself to learn more and more techniques, finding that the more I learned, the more it improved other paddling skills and added even more enjoyment to my paddling. My love for tradition and culture led me to explore further and I love learning more about Greenland and its surrounds and the culture that gave us the Kayak. My desire to learn more led to making contacts with other Greenland enthusiasts overseas, which in turn gave us the opportunity to participate in some amazing Greenland paddling events in Canada and Japan.
When I began that journey, my goal was simple – learn as much as I could in the short time I had so I could bring those skills home and continue working on my own progress. These events had some extra lessons in store for me, which I wasn’t expecting. What I encountered at each of the events made me realise Greenland style is about far more than just learning techniques. At each event, we made friends with an amazing group of people. There is a strong sense of community that goes with Greenland style, a friendly, open atmosphere that promotes a sharing of knowledge and experiences. It was the people, rather than just kayaking skills that made these events unforgettable.
In Australia, Greenland rolling or even just paddling with a stick is fairly new. There are certainly pioneers out there who have been doing their own thing for quite some time, but interest has been slow to grow. Instead of the open, sharing sense of community that we encountered overseas, we have scattered individuals or small groups practicing in relative isolation, with little or no contact with other enthusiasts and a somewhat dismissive attitude from other kayakers. My goals began to change, instead of just pursuing my own interest, I wanted to share the warm, friendly atmosphere we had encountered overseas, and see the growth of Greenland paddling in Australia in a positive way. There is of course the option to just sit back and complain about the attitudes of others, but complaining never changes anything. If I want things to change, I have to be willing to take action myself, and so I found myself facing some new and unexpected challenges.
I have always been a very private person, with a dislike of being in the public eye and a hatred of photos and videos of myself. With camera shyness and nervousness to combat, it has been an interesting journey J.
When we were approached by Mark Sundin of Expedition Kayaks with the idea of having a free Greenland rolling day, I thought it was a great idea and was more than willing to be involved. With Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways coming to Australia shortly, he thought it would be a good way to generate some interest and get more people to take advantage of the rare opportunity to train with some of the world’s best teachers. With Expedition Kayaks and Greenland Downunder teaming up for the event, we would be able to present a variety of techniques, share our own experiences of Greenland kayaking events, and hopefully see everyone have a lot of fun. It would seem our video clips, blogs, and incessant talking about Greenland rolling have caught people’s attention and I was very surprised when Mark told us a week or so before the event that some people were signing up just to come and see me, I was definitely feeling a bit nervous as the day approached.
Gathering on the beach
With a three hour drive to Sydney, we were off to an early start, loading boat and gear in the rain hoping the weather would improve as we drove north. It rained almost all the way, giving us some cause for concern, but it eased off as we neared our destination. We arrived to find a crowd already waiting on the beach, with more still coming. As we waited for the final arrivals, I spent some time chatting with a few people, surprised to find that there were some attending from as far away as Newcastle, with two people travelling all that way just to watch. It reminded me of the reasons why I travelled all the way to Canada, there are so few opportunities to even see Greenland rolling here. It was very humbling to know people had travelled so far just to see our little event.
With a few concerns about the weather and unfortunately, water quality (something we never suffer in Jervis Bay), we braved the conditions with 20 people in the water for three hours of rolling and fun. We began with a quick chat and an introduction from Rob Mercer, then it was into the water for a demonstration.
A great group of people
After injuring my back a month ago, I have not been able to practice as much as I would like. Feeling a little nervous, I plunged ahead with my demo, wanting to give everyone a good understanding of the basics as well as being able to show some of the more advanced rolls. While a few of the rolls felt a little stiffer than usual, all went well until I got to the elbow roll, one I have had a lot of fun with and have been very confident with, but this time just wasn’t going to happen. It is impossible to not feel disappointed when things don’t go to plan, but none of us are perfect, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert yet. Having a roll fail before an audience is embarrassing, but I have seen some of the top names in Greenland rolling blow a roll and shrug it off, these things happen, mistakes keep us humble.
Rob and Mark helping with Balance Braces
After the demo and a couple of quick drills we hit the water, with Mark and Rob taking a group through balance braces and lay back rolls while Wayne and I took the remainder who were interested in forward finishes or working on specific rolls. With so many people working at different levels and with different goals, it was an interesting challenge to try and make sure everyone was getting something they wanted. I found myself alternating between standing in the water assisting people through their rolls and jumping in my boat to give quick demonstrations and explanations of details. It was great to see everyone having fun, trying out new rolls and running through their own repertoires. The last part of the session we spent helping with an assortment of rolls, from balance braces, to hand rolls and a variety in between. As everyone started to feel the cold, and with some feeling a little fatigued after repeated rolling, the crowd began to thin as people headed off to get dry and warm with the last few eager people taking those last few minutes to spend just a little more time on a few final rolls. Once out of the water, I spent a little time talking to people, happy to answer their questions about our experiences overseas, finding myself one of the last people off the beach. We quickly loaded the boat and gear as the rain made a re-appearance, then we joined everyone in the sailing club for some warm food and good company.
Rolling, rolling, rolling......
Thanks go to Rob Mercer and Mark Sundin of Expedition Kayaks, and to all who attended for a fun day. Good luck to everyone in their progress with their rolls, I am eagerly awaiting Cheri and Turner’s visit and look forward to taking advantage of their expertise, I strongly recommend everyone take this opportunity – they are amazing teachers and great people. Happy Rolling J
Cheri Perry, Maligiaq Padilla, myself, and Turner Wilson at Ontario Greenland Camp 2011


  1. Thank you Mel, and your partner, for sharing your knowledge. It was a fun morning despite the weather.
    Hopefully my body will remember some of the movements when I next sit in my kayak. :-)

    1. Thank you Fer, glad you had fun, your rolls are looking good!
      Keep up the practice, you'll be surprised how quickly your body remembers the movements and how much fun rolling can be :)

  2. Mel, after 25 years paddling everything from polo to C1 slalom, this was my first experience with GP. I've gotta say that the balanced brace is the closest thing to mystical that I've ever done. I never thought I'd be lying on my back in the water, staring at the sky, at right angles to my boat. So cool.
    I'm definitely getting a GP stick and developing some more advanced rolls. Just as soon as the water warms up and my muscles stop hurting...
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you. This is one of the things I love most about kayaking - no matter how long you do it, or how much you have learned, there is always something more to explore.
      The muscles do get used to the different movements pretty quickly. Most of the rolls can be done with a Euro paddle, but paddling and rolling with a GP is much more fun :)

  3. Hi Mel - thanks for sharing your knowledge beyond Australia via the internet too!

  4. You are famous! Never underestimate the power of the Internet!

    NK, all the way from Orkney.

    1. Thank you to both Mackayak and Northern Kayaker.I love how global the kayaking community has become, so many people from all over the world sharing their experiences and their love of paddling - finally, A practical use for modern technology :)